This is the astonishing moment a man was rescued after two days clinging to an overturned boat in brutal Atlantic seas off the coast of Florida — feared to be the lone survivor out of 40 on a suspected human-smuggling trip.
The image released by the Coast Guard in Miami shows the unidentified man perched on the tip of the mostly submerged 25-foot hull just a few feet out of the water.
He was found by a good Samaritan early Tuesday — having been stuck there since early Sunday when he says the suspected human smuggling boat capsized in “severe weather,” the coast guard said.
The passing tugboat operator “saved his life,” pulling him onto his own vessel and awaiting a Coast Guard crew to pick him up, local Commander Jo-Ann Burdian said in an update Wednesday.
The survivor told officials that he was among 40 people who left Bihimi in the Bahamas late Saturday in what the agency confirmed was a “suspected human smuggling venture.”
“The survivor was not wearing a life jacket and reported that no one else on board was,” Burdian said.
At least one body was found during a massive search overnight, with “multiple” crews having scanned an area about the size of New Jersey.
“We continue to search for other survivors,” Burdian said of the 38 still missing, reporting “very good” search conditions expected for Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear how the survivor had been the only one able to cling on when the vessel overturned about 45 miles off the Florida coast.
In his two days stranded, he endured a severe cold front, with winds up to 23 mph and swells up to 9 feet high. Tommy Sewell, a local bonefishing guide, said there were also fierce squalls of rain Sunday into Monday.
The survivor was brought to a hospital for symptoms of dehydration and sun exposure, the coast guard said. He was in stable condition.
Burdain would not reveal the survivor’s nationality, nor would she speculate on whether he was a suspected immigrant or the boat’s captain.
“He’s being interviewed by our partners in Homeland Security,” she said.
It was still being treated “as a case of human smuggling,” Burdain said Wednesday, partly because it “occurred in a normal route for human smuggling from the Bahamas into the southeast US.”
Migrants have long used the islands of the Bahamas as a steppingstone to reach the US, and there have been thousands of deaths over the years.
They are mostly from Haiti and Cuba, but some from Colombia and Ecuador were picked up earlier this month.
It came on the heels of another ill-fated migrant crossing attempt that ended with 32 people rescued from a capsized vessel last Friday, west of Bimini.
In May last year, 12 Cuban migrants perished and eight were rescued after their boat flipped over off Key West, Florida. Then in July, 13 people were rescued after their boat capsized off Key West, with nine others dying. Nine went missing in the water.
At least 557 Cuban migrants in all have been picked up at sea by the Coast Guard since October, in addition to nearly 7,400 Cubans interdicted during the previous five years, according to the agency.
With Post wires